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29 September 2005

(S2F-1838) Drug Dealers (Convictions)

6. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister how many drug dealers were convicted in 2004. (S2F-1838)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): The latest available statistics are for 2003, when there were 1,639 convictions for illegal supply or trafficking of drugs in Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the First Minister aware that senior police officers now suggest that several families in Scotland have built up cumulative assets in excess of £100 million and that the overall turnover of the drugs industry in Scotland is in the range of £3 billion to £5 billion? That suggests that between 3 per cent and 5 per cent of Scottish gross domestic product is in the illegal drugs industry. Will the First Minister seek to retain for Scottish benefit all the moneys that are retrieved from drug dealing—which are currently capped at £17 million a year—rather than allowing them to be a tax on Scotland that is taken south?

The First Minister: Dear oh dear. I thought that "It's Scotland's oil" was a poor old slogan that the nationalists had dragged back from 30 years ago, but to start saying "It's Scotland's drugs" is going a bit too far.

The reality is that those of us who have to deal with such matters rather than simply come up with silly simplistic slogans and ideas are now catching drug dealers at a rate. I will give Mr Stevenson an example of that. In 2002, the number of crimes related to drug dealing that the police in Scotland recorded was 10,139. In 2003, that number had gone down to 8,807. In 2002, the number of convictions was 1,353, but in 2003 it had gone up to 1,639. I hope that Mr Stevenson will agree that we are being effective in reducing the number of recorded instances of such crimes and that we are being highly effective in convicting those who are responsible for them.

One of the reasons for that is that we work in partnership with the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, our police forces and the many UK agencies—including HM Customs and Excise and the immigration authorities—that work closely with our drug enforcement agency. Those agencies have to be paid for from somewhere, so it is appropriate that we should share the proceeds and then join together to catch drug dealers. It is appropriate that, rather than getting involved in silly nationalist arguments about where the money is going or whose tax it is, we are effective at catching drug dealers in Scotland and getting drugs off Scotland's streets.

Margo MacDonald (Lothians) (Ind): I wonder whether I could focus the First Minister's mind on the definition of "drug dealer". The figures that he gave in good faith mean very little. Many of the people who are convicted of dealing drugs are users, who are simply selling on drugs to feed their habits. Yesterday I chaired a conference on aspects of drugs policy. Many such aspects need to be considered afresh and we need new measurements of success—if we can classify it as that—and an assessment of which methods and policies have been failing. I speak as someone who was chairman of the Scottish Drugs Forum nearly 20 years ago and I can assure the First Minister that nothing has improved.

The First Minister: Unlike other party leaders, I welcome Margo MacDonald's right to express her opinion on such matters. However, in this case I do not agree with her. Since the establishment of the Parliament there has been the creation of the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency and the passage through the UK Parliament of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. We have taken measures to work in partnership with other agencies to increase the number of convictions for drug dealing, and we have introduced drug treatment and testing orders in our courts.

We should ensure that we do not just tackle the people who are dealing, but that measures are put in place for addicts. Increased resources have been announced again this summer for drug rehabilitation across Scotland, which will help people to get off drugs, thereby reducing demand as well as supply. In all those different areas in Scotland today, far more is taking place far more effectively than was the case pre-devolution. Parliament has a good record so far, although it recognises that we still have a long way to go.

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